More Pictures from the Road… to Varanasi this time

So the last post ended when we’d reached Hyderabad. We had arrived early and even checked my camera into the repair centre that day. The motherboard was fucked and would need replacing. The good news: it’s a warranty repair. The bad news: it may take five to ten days for the part to be shipped over depending on whether it has to be ordered all the way from Singapore.

Oh well, we had allowed some extra time to return to Delhi just in case, so we could wait. And the guide book promised a great bazaar to explore south of the river in the old town riddled with great buildings dating from the Muslim invasion of this city. Plus lots of good restaurants and a metro to easily get around defying the traffic nightmare.

Yeah right! The metro is only just being built (so how and why does our 2011 guidebook have a full map of it?!?) and the bazaar was just the usual busy Indian kerfuffle with relentless touts and maybe a slight Muslim twist to the wedding garments available. Each shop owner would whistle after us for attention, rattling through a list of available jewelery or saris. (What the…. we’re not dogs to be whistled at and what the hell do they imagine two westerners want with Indian wedding stuff?!?) The pretty old city architecture had been all but swallowed up by modern concrete and the few visible arches and columns were obscured by dirt and stalls selling plastic crap.

In short it was nothing like the guide book promised and a nightmare. We did find an amazing biryani (this is the city where biryanis were born).

But we had no intention to fight the traffic hell to see the fort. Chances are it is as disappointing. So we holed up in the relative quiet of the hotel room for the next few days. (I say relative: One night just after midnight I got rudely awakened by some police. “Roomcheck!” My disgruntled look and hushed voice mentioning a sleeping husband deterred them from rummaging through our room. They apologetically turned the harsh voice on the walkie-talkie down and just quickly asked if we were happy here at the hotel before moving on to wake the occupant of the room next door. The poor fucker was Indian and had to endure a full room search.)

Anyways, I said photos, so here is what happens when hovelled up in our room all day reading and interneting, leaving only to have a yum curry in the restaurant next door in the afternoon.

Four days later on the Friday afternoon we got a call, the camera is ready to be picked up. Sweet! We’d been lucky. The only spare motherboard in the country had been shipped from Delhi and had arrived in Hyderabad in that morning’s mail! So the next morning we packed our things and made our escape.

We popped over to a sacred lake and temples, loving the autumnal scenery and the beautiful calm of the temple and shrine-surrounded lake, basking in the sun with a cup of chai.

 

Hilltop Temple

Hilltop Temple

 

 

Next stop Bheraghat, where a river flowing over some natural marble had left some wicked formations and a nice waterfall.

We arrived just before sundown and finally found a hotel that wasn’t fully booked. Our room had a balcony and we could park our bikes in the reception hall!

 

It had been a long ride and we deserved a beer, so we went on a search and had just enough time to explore the small village littered with marble carving stalls and shops. We never found any beer (the river is considered quite holy so no alcohol was available here) but the village was real nice and the marble looked quite cool. Kids were flying their simple little paper kites in the streets, as they do everywhere in India in the evenings. They are really good at it and it’s fun to watch.

I tried to catch some boys rolling tires along with sticks on camera. But the low light made for fuzzy pictures. They caught me out and started following me, wanting their picture taken. When I finally did, they were most delighted to see themselves on my camera screen, unperturbed by the fact they’d not be able to take that picture home. (It’s moments like this I wish I had a Polaroid camera…. if only the photo paper needed wasn’t so pricy!)

We spent the evening drinking the last of our booze cache on the balcony with a view of the little town and writing diaries. When a thunderstorm made it too cold, we hovelled up in bed and listened to the rolling thunder and the rain gushing down onto the roofs. The wind picked up rattling the door and billowing the curtains, blowing coldly over our faces as we tried to sleep.

The next day it had rained itself out and the sun warmed everything. We were in a bit of a lazy mood and stayed in bed till the 12 noon check out time. Not in the mood to play tourists and spend time squeezed in with other tourists, we gave the boat that heads out onto the river pointing out the various marble formations a miss. Missing out? I don’t know. Maybe. But we felt neither here nor there about it.

Instead we parked up on a bridge, avoiding the tourist paid-for car park and concrete path and climbed over the rocks like the locals did, to reach the waterfalls. There were holy men performing ceremonies and people bathing in the river, drying colourful saris on the rocks.

The waterfall was pretty cool. But sadly the purpose-built walkways and crowds of tourists robbed them of their natural beauty and we left soon. (Give me a wild waterfall with no one and no shops, stalls, rubbish around any day and I will hang around for hours! Maybe I should put Norway on my list of destinations.)

It seems that round here it rains more regularly, not just during monsoon season. The landscapes were more green and almost European with forgetmenots and wheat fields yellow with rapeseed towering over the young green wheat. The houses here had red tiled roofs, no matter how shabby the walls and were squatting low against the rain. The population here is notably more dense and poorer.

 

The roads were awful and either disintegrating into potholes or in various dusty stages of being turned into national highways. Cows, dogs, school children and grown adults were treating these new four lane highways as if it was still their tiny village road, walking around or cycling four abreast, completely oblivious of the cars and motorcycles swishing past at 140kph. We had several near misses and Aidan, riding in front, had to screech to a halt innumerable times.We saw six or seven road accident wreckages a day (that’s no exaggeration!)

It soon became clear that the highway really was being built straight through the villages where the previous small road had been. Any building in the way had been demolished and so this highway literally went through people’s front yards where cows were kept, laundry was washed, dinners were cooked and cow dung was dried for cooking fuel.

The road did take us through some hills and before we knew it, we were riding atop the ridge of a mountain. The views were stunning and the road beautifully enjoyable, even if it only lasted for a few minutes.

With all the road works going on, sometimes the signs as to whether we had to take the diversion or not weren’t quite clear. Chosing the brand new smooth tarmac over the old bumpy gravel road, we soon found the end of the tarmac where boulders obstructed the way. A narrow path at the side of a sandy heap, no wider than the bike’s wheels, formed the connection to the onward road. Worried my short legs wouldn’t hold the bike if it slipped, I made Aidan ride both across while I took pictures. (Why does it never look as scary in the photo as it actually is?!)

We finally arrived in Varanasi just before sunset, super exhausted, fighting the super dense, snail pace traffic hell with cycle rickshaws causing hold-ups everywhere. Our whole bodies hurt from the juddering ride through millions of potholes and our hands were cramped working on the slow-riding clutch control. I recon we could win any of the Horizons Unlimited Meetings slow races now! And then I almost lost Aidan, stopping to take a picture of a goat.

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